I attended the Young Leaders conference on Israel Studies with absolutely no idea what to expect. I had friended and contacted a few people on Facebook just so that I would be acquainted with people and see some familiar faces when I arrived. While this was a great idea and turned out very well for me, I do not believe that it was the only thing that made my experience amazing. I made great friends, whom I plan to stay in touch with, and the social aspect has been very fun. What this conference was really about, however, was Israel. To me, Brandeis University seems very Jewish and I know that they have been advocates for social justice from the beginning. What I didn’t know was just how much of a reality this was. YLC, from the moment the first speaker opened their mouth, proved to me that Israel and social justice are huge aspects of this institution.
I would like to say that these 5 days have been a sort of series of enlightenments. The first occurred while we were in our smaller group discussions. We were going around the circle introducing ourselves with our name, where we are from, and why we feel connected to Israel. Everyone had such great stories to tell, and were so passionate about the land, and they each had their own stories and people and moments that made that connection. As our faculty member, Chen, was asking us to speed up so we don’t run out of time, I thought to myself- we all have so much to say, just about this, and so much to say about everything else, I could talk about this for months. And that’s when it hit me. That is what a college major is. In the past year I have been resistant to the idea of attending college, and could not imagine paying to go through the hell that high school gave me for free. Really. Does that make sense? But what Brandeis did was show me that there is a major in what I am passionate about, and it might not totally suck. We were treated with the respect of a colleague rather than students or children, and it felt as if our opinions were more valued and people cared about what we had to say, which is something I believe our American society today lacks. It was refreshing, and when I found out that what we were doing was much like a graduate program class, I knew that this was the place for me. Of course, I have since come to my (semi) rational senses instead of letting my new Brandeis obsession go into total overdrive, but this was a burst of enlightenment that gave me the type of feeling I imagine one must feel when they are “high on life.”
Then there was the second enlightenment. After discovering the learning environment of a college and opening up to the mere idea of attending it, I was introduced to just a small taste of the freedom it comes with. Having been to a URJ sleep away camp for the past six summers, I have absolutely no problem being away from home. In fact, I often prefer to be away for some time during the year (sorry mom and dad). Just walking across the campus alone, my professional-feeling messenger bag by my side, wearing my ever so class business casual outfit for the day, I suddenly felt like the world was at my fingertips. I felt so free and so in control of my life and what I was doing at the moment. At that time I was an independent person walking to a professional environment where my opinion was valued and I was going to have a pressure and grade free learning environment, and that felt so good. A refreshing change from the familiar high school halls, which often remind me more of a prison than a prestigious institute, like Brandeis does. So the third (and quite frankly most boring) was merely me telling myself “Emily, you’re in high school right now. You will be a junior next year, and you will still have a year after that. But your time will come where you can be in a college environment in every aspect, and right now you need to focus on doing what makes you passionate”. As cliché and inspirational as that sounds, I was actually pretty much telling myself to calm down and not get too excited because I still have two more years to serve.
Regardless, the Young Leaders Conference on Israel Studies at Brandeis has given me not only insight on Israel, but insight on how to lead a successful college life and be a successful conversationist. It has given me a purpose for the next two years of high school, as well as hope that I get to spend 4 years taking part in things like this, rather than just barely 5 days. And for that, I can never thank the people that ran this program enough. Andrew Flagel is truly a wonderful speaker and has made this first year of this conference life changing for me.
Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this, I merely love Brandeis and this program.
P.S. But seriously, no one paid me, I promise.